Homeless in the spotlight in Sarasota

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Since the panhandling law went into effect this year, the Sarasota homeless population has been less visible.  But that doesn't mean they have left the area.  In fact, its been the opposite.

"I see new faces every day. I'm out there, and I'm out there working with the walking beat, and they are constantly coming up to me saying this is the new guy this is the new girl," said Officer David Dubendorf the head of the Sarasota Police Homeless Unit. 

Dubendorf, added the services provided to the homeless in the area could be reason for the increase.  "They have a good situation here that's why they have such a large population, they come here and they get a lot of hand out," he said.

Those handouts include everything from food to toiletries.  But officials says what they are not getting is what they need the most.  Which, is programs that provide mental health assistance and those that motivate people to get back on their feet.  The result is the Suncoast homeless population continues to grow, surpassing the national average of 22 homeless people for every 10 thousand residents.

Base on population size, Sarasota County should have about 836 homeless people, but instead there are 2054.  A recent study shows those numbers increased by 67% from 2011 to 2013.

"There's a percentage that enjoys that life.  But the one's that enjoy that life tend to make it harder on people like me who are really trying to get back on their feet and have a decent life," Katrina Khuns.  

Khuns, has been homeless on-and-off for the more than two years.  She says many of her homeless counterparts are on drugs. The study confirms that information.  But, it also finds the majority of the homeless people have a physical disability.  And, it reveals more than half of the homeless are males.  Nearly one thousand are white and blacks making up the next largest race with just over 250 homeless people.  But regardless of the racial makeup everyone agrees. The homeless problem needs to addressed.

"Its not something that's going away we have a large population and we don't have anything to do with them," said  Dubendorf.

In the coming weeks city officials will decide if they will hire a consultant to asses and recommend solutions.